If you want to keep up with U.S. domestic news, you should probably come to Europe.
When I moved back to Germany a few months ago, I was surprised to find out that even things that nobody seemed to care about in North America made it onto front pages here. When there's a shooting in the U.S., editors in Germany go into breaking news mode, even though the story probably won't ever make it onto most American newscasts.
It's a bizarre obsession: European (and particularly German) media spend more time reporting on and from the U.S. than from neighboring countries, including France and Britain.
Take 2014, for example: It was a year dominated by international news events, including Ukraine, Syria and the Ebola-struck nations in West Africa. Despite all this, U.S.-related news dominated German evening newscasts, generating three times more reports than the situation in Syria, for instance, according to the IFEM media institute.
Europeans often blame Americans for being obsessed with themselves, so why all the attention in Germany?
For the Germans, it's a love-hate relationship
Here's one example: When the New York Times recently wrote a piece about the Berlin district of Wedding, German media went in overdrive, with commentators questioning whether the newspaper was correct in portraying the local district as up-and-coming. But the undertone seemed clear: "Wow, even the U.S. likes Wedding!"
Americans didn't actually care, of course. The daily paper Süddeutsche Zeitung later asked its readers in a moment of self-reflection: "American journalists praise Munich and Frankfurt, and now Berlin-Wedding -- and everyone is going crazy. But why?"
German journalists in particular don't usually spare an opportunity to comment negatively on U.S. society and politics -- yet, many of them seem to crave signs of approval from the U.S. "Germans see the U.S. almost as their father," says Timo Lochocki, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a transatlantic think tank. "It's almost schizophrenic: They want to be admired by the U.S., but do everything to distance themselves from Americans."
The U.S. is an easy target
"Most German media outlets love to criticize the U.S. because it makes for such an easy target," says Stephan Bierling, a professor for international politics at the University of Regensburg. "There is a deep-rooted anti-Americanism in Germany that partially comes out of an inferiority complex. In a certain sense some Germans will never 'forgive' the Americans that they defeated the Nazis and brought about a stable world order because it reminds us that we couldn't get rid of the Nazis ourselves and were the main culprit for the division of Europe."
No other nationality triggers such strong emotions and associations in Germany. There are few people in the world Europeans feel more similar to than North Americans. At the same time, quite a lot of them have grown skeptical of the "big brother" overseas. They fear the National Security Agency, they ridicule its politics and gun laws, but many also secretly admire the global appeal and influence of the United States.
European correspondents in the U.S. will likely argue that the U.S. is the world's superpower, and that the really important decisions are made in the White House. But let's keep in mind that while Germany's attention was focused on the White House last year, a war was fought in Ukraine -- a country located only a few hundred miles from Berlin. While TV channels went "live to our correspondent in Washington D.C.," the Islamic State took over parts of Syria and Iraq and worsened a refugee crisis that is now hitting Europe hard.
Couldn't Germany's obsession with the U.S. also be a sign that continental Europe still hopes that Americans will deal with its problems sooner or later, rather than searching for its own solutions?
"We hold the U.S. responsible for all things that go wrong in the Middle East or Ukraine, but demand more American engagement to rectify these crisis situations," says German politics professor Bierling, who blames Germans for relying too much on the U.S. in resolving crises.
Maybe it's harder to be the U.S. than it looks
Researchers had, for instance, long warned that 2015 could be the worst year in the Mediterranean Sea in decades: Thousands of migrants would die, analysts warned as early as last year. However, instead of expanding its Mediterranean rescue mission, it was downsized. And instead of preparing for the influx of refugees, little was done.
German Marshall Fund expert Lochocki draws a different conclusion, though: "The crises that are prioritized by Washington, such as Syria or Ukraine, aren't necessarily what matters most in Berlin where the default of Greece seems much more devastating."
Given that Germany is increasingly perceived as the main actor in resolving that crisis, France and Britain are becoming irrelevant as benchmarks, Lochocki says. "The only other Western country Germany considers itself on the same level to is the U.S. -- and that's why we care so much about what Americans think of us."
"Germans have long blamed the U.S. for all its mistakes, but now they suddenly realize that leading a powerful nation is more difficult than they expected it to be. That's what creates more understanding between the two countries. Nevertheless, Germans still love to hear about what's going wrong on the other side of the ocean because it makes them feel better about their own struggles," Lochocki explained.